Originally created 08/17/00

Delegates share enthusiasm



LOS ANGELES - South Carolina delegates to the Democratic National Convention say even though Republicans have them outnumbered in the Palmetto State, no one can beat their enthusiasm.

Aiken Mayor Pro Tem Lessie Price, a delegate and a deputy whip for Vice President Al Gore, said delegates from other states have only one question for her when they meet.

"People ask me will Gore carry South Carolina. That's what I'm asked over and over," she said.

Realistically, the answer is no, she tells them. In 1996, Republican Bob Dole won 50 percent of the state's vote, leaving 44 percent to Democrat President Clinton and 6 percent to Reform Party nominee Ross Perot. But she said hard work on the part of activists like her can leverage Mr. Gore's vote to draw more candidates and followers into the party this year to broaden the base for the next campaign.

"People are excited about Al Gore. The president really excited the crowd, and he really reminded us of why we should go home and work hard for him," she said.

The question she hasn't gotten, she said, is the one about the Confederate flag. But delegates from the other part of the state say they have been quizzed about it.

"I've had people say they're glad we took care of the flag issue and that we will finish the job," said Flo Rosse, a delegate from Hilton Head.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson made essentially the same point when he addressed the convention Tuesday night to the applause of the 35,000 delegates.

South Carolina's contingent chaired by Dick Harpootlian, has just 52 delegates and seven alternates and is even smaller than the Puerto Rico delegation. Still, the South Carolinians are having a good time at the convention.

Hilton Head delegate John Ingram gets to his seat early, long before the showcase speakers take the stage in time for prime-time television on the East Coast.

"We want to get everything at this convention," he said.

Beyond seeing the speakers on the stage, Mr. Ingram has seen actor Martin Sheen, who plays a president on television's West Wing, and Ms. Price toured the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences where her cousin works, getting the chance to pick up an Oscar - and the chance to put it back on the table.

The delegates also had a chance to see some of the thousands of protesters drawn to the convention.

"I witnessed some uneasy feelings on the part of the delegates" in reaction to the protests, Ms. Price said. "That's not the way to make people feel at home."

Ms. Rosse notes, though, that the demonstrations outside the Staples Center are not being felt inside because the protesters have not presented a clear message.

"I guess they don't have much of an affect if we don't know what they're protesting," she said.

Reach Walter C. Jones at (404) 589-8424.